The Fall TV Lineup – What To Expect From This Year’s Pilots

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– By James Powers –

Every spring, in anticipation of the upcoming fall premiere season, the five major broadcast networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and The CW) all get together to show off their various offerings for the next year to advertisers, in an effort to entice them to pony up for commercial airtime (because remember kids, the whole reason we have TV in the first place is as a delivery system for advertisements). This weeklong spectacle, known as the “upfronts,” also serves as the networks’ de facto announcement of which shows have been renewed for the following year, which ones cancelled, and what new ones will be rolled out. This year found the networks being far more conservative than before, with the number of total cancellations (and therefore new shows to take their place) falling well below last year’s. Which seems a little odd: as streaming and cable continue to churn out new content at a feverish pace, and massive broadcast hits like Supernatural, Modern Family and Big Bang Theory approach their ends, you’d think the broadcast networks would be scrambling to keep up with competitors.

But I dunno, maybe they’ve tried that in years past and gotten burned for it. In any case, instead of trying to keep pace with the manic productivity of cable and streaming networks, it looks like broadcast is opting to take things a little slower this year and see what sticks. Of course, “slow” here is very relative – between the five networks, 32 new pilots have been ordered to series for the fall. Some of which, hopefully, will strike gold and inherit the places of such retiring giants as Supernatural, Modern Family and of course The Big Bang Theory. So, sure, maybe a slow year from a macro perspective, but to me that still sounds like a lot of new content to swim through.  

And if that sounds like a lot to you too, well, good news – I’ve taken it upon myself to watch a boatload of trailers for the upcoming season and tell you ahead of time what looks good and what looks meh (yes I know, you’re welcome). Bear in mind that there’s also a sizable chunk of new series coming up that still don’t have any first look materials, so I’m not addressing those because that would just involve reading a bunch of loglines, and who wants to do that? And I mean, if you want, you can still find the diplomatic, impartial, Hollywood-approved rundown of everything new on the broadcast networks via the link just above. But if you want the truth (i.e. my hot take) then read on.

ABC
  • Emergence (drama) Lights flicker, metal objects fly around, and a little girl emerges from a plane wreck with Jason Bourne-style amnesia but nary a scratch. Is it aliens? Mutants? Government test subjects? Do the writers know yet? Only one way to find out!
  • Stumptown (drama) – Cobie Smulders plays a washed-up detective chasing down thugs through the grungy glory of Portland, Oregon. Playing a type of role usually reserved for dudes, she takes a lot of hits but doesn’t take any sass. All of which looks like a pretty fresh riff on the PI procedural. Here’s hoping.  
  • Mixed-ish (comedy) – Ok, hear me out. A mixed-race family finds themselves as fish out of water in suburban America because, well, they’re mixed-race… but also because they used to be in a hippie cult that just got broken up by the feds. Plus, m0Re EiGhtiEs. Not sure who ABC’s target audience is here, but I’m guessing it’s people who have seen Black-ish and will therefore, maybe, have some idea of what’s going on.

 

CBS
  • Evil (drama) – A psychologist and a Vatican “assessor” (oh?) team up to investigate cases of what might be demonic possession – or just run-of-the-mill psychosis. I really hope the showrunners are able to come up with a scarier baddie than just the one in the trailer (you’ll see what I mean). If they do, then Evil could make for a solid and entertaining exploration of the faith/reason dynamic.
  • The Unicorn (comedy) – I’m gonna be super petty for a second and just say I don’t like lead actor Walton Goggins’ face. So that’s a bit of a hangup for me. But that aside, it looks like he’s playing one of the wholesomest dads in recent TV history, which is a major plus. Also, the trailer made me laugh, which is far more than can be said for some of the other sitcoms here…
  • All Rise (drama) – A self-assured – but quirky – black female judge finds herself a newbie in the LA court system and proceeds to shake things up. Sounds pandering on its surface – and this season’s overall lineup shows that the networks are anxious to assure us of their interest in Strong Female Characters™ – but All Rise looks to leaven the self-seriousness that often afflicts courtroom dramas, thank goodness.
  • Bob ♥ Abishola (comedy) – An overweight middle-aged sock salesman (yes) suffers a heart attack and, as he’s recovering, develops a crush on his nurse – a single mother and Nigerian immigrant. If that sounds dorky, yup, it looks dorky too. And if that sounds cute, well yeah, it looks pretty cute too.
  • Carol’s Second Act (comedy) – Patricia Heaton plays Carol, a fifty-something divorcee who’s decided to pivot from teaching to being a doctor. But it won’t be easy, because this is a sitcom. Eh. Honestly, what has me most excited is Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan showing up all silver-fox as a senior attending physician. I dig the new look.
  • Broke (comedy) – NCISs Pauly Perrette gets thrown for a loop when her estranged sister and brother-in-law – both very wealthy and obnoxious – turn up unannounced for a visit. And she gets thrown for a further loop when she finds out that the couple are suddenly broke and need a place to crash. Namely, her place. Probably gonna skip this one, mostly because one of the sister’s catchphrases is “oh my Gucci!”
  • FBI: Most Wanted (drama) – FBI. Most. Wanted. Pretty self-explanatory. How this is at all different from parent show FBI is anybody’s guess, because the trailer sure won’t tell you. It does, however, demonstrate how intensely perfunctory broadcast programming can sometimes be.   
  • Tommy (drama) – A self-assured – but quirky – white female officer finds herself the new LAPD Chief of Police and proceeds to shake things up. Wait…didn’t I just write that sentence somewhere else? Spoiler alert – yes. All snark aside, though, Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco is just absurdly likable as the titular character, and it looks like she has some pretty fun writing to work with. So yeah, I’ll bite.

 

NBC
  • Bluff City Law (drama) – Strong Female Character™ is a lawyer! Her dad’s a lawyer too! She’s really liberal, and he’s really conservative! But he’s very supportive of her, and says things like “in case you haven’t noticed, the world’s running out of heroes!” Probably the sort of thing that I’ll scoff at now and then watch later and cry and feel ashamed that I cried.
  • Sunnyside (comedy) – Kal Penn plays an aimless NYC councilman who finds his purpose in helping a ragtag group of immigrants prep for citizenship requirements. And said immigrants are…an interesting bunch. Not sure if this show is subverting cultural stereotypes or just updating them for the 21st-century, nor can I really decide if it will be funny or not. So good work, Mr. Publicity-Trailer-Maker-Man, you’ve got me intrigued.
  • Perfect Harmony (comedy) – So I think this one is basically Glee, but funnier and for middle-aged church choirs. My mom was a church music director for years, and while I admit there’s little resemblance between her and Bradley Whitford, the pained expression he wears in response to that “Alleluia” chorus is all too familiar.

 

Fox
  • BH90210 (comedy) – A parody reboot of Beverly Hills 90210, BH90210 is blessed with far and away the most original and funny trailer of the whole bunch. Don’t know how many of us will actually be able to stomach all those rich people when it actually airs, but for now I’ll say it’s won me over.
  • Prodigal Son (drama) – Who do you call to help you catch a serial killer? Why – another serial killer, of course! No lol jk, this is 2019 and we’re more original than that. Who do you really call to help catch a serial killer? The son of a serial killer! (gasp!) What is more, Daddy Serial Killer is Michael Sheen, with a luscious beard (double gasp)!  
  • Not Just Me (drama) – Ok soooo…where do I begin with this one? A young woman discovers that her father, a prestigious fertility doctor and pioneer in artificial insemination, has in fact over 100 children by means of his own – ahem – professional methods. Amusingly, the blurb published by Fox states that the show is “exploring such hot-button issues as identity, human connection and what it truly means to be a family.” But not biomedical ethics, apparently, cuz that topic’s a real yawner.
  • NeXt (drama) – Speaking of the ethical limits of technology! Looking something like a cross between Black Mirror and Person of Interest, NeXt focuses on a piece of personal assistant software gone bad. Catch this one while you can, before our corporate overlords conspire to yank it off the air.
  • Deputy (drama) – “You need three things to do this job: the badge, the gun, and what’s in your heart.” “Even if my heart is just full of memes and K-pop songs and Cheeto dust?” Guess which of those two quotes is not in the trailer?
  • Outmatched (comedy) – Two dumb parents with three genius kids… and a fourth kid who’s just as dumb as them. Ouch. No really – this whole thing is so heavily steeped in the multicam-soundstage-sitcom vibe that it actually kind of hurts.  
  • Filthy Rich (drama) – When a billionaire televangelist dies in a plane accident, his widow is left to deal with the revelation that he fathered not one but three other kids through various trysts, all of whom have been written into his will. Basically the evangelical version of Empire, so I’m very curious to see where this goes.

 

The CW
  • Batwoman (drama) – The CW’s Arrowverse gets a big expansion with the addition of Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. The network also gets major wokeness cred with this show by bringing an openly lesbian superheroine to the screen, and those of us who express ambivalence about that sort of thing will be sent to our rooms.
  • Katy Keene (drama) – I never watched Riverdale, so I guess I don’t really know anything, but it sure looks to me like this spinoff is going in a radically different direction. Where the parent show gives off an almost comically brooding vibe, Katy Keene looks poppy and starry-eyed, more of a Fame reboot than anything. Which, hey, could be fun.
  • Nancy Drew (drama) – Much more edgy and mysterious, this feels like the Riverdale spinoff that Gotham needs to deserve to want…oof, wait. Not actually a Riverdale spinoff. In no way connected to Batman either. But CW’s brand identity is just so on point that I guess all their shows are starting to blur together in my brain. Or maybe I’m just tired.  

Whew…again, this doesn’t even touch on all the new shows that will be hitting TV in the fall, just the ones that have trailers (or at least snippets) out thus far. Much of it is obviously not that surprising – even if Amazon and Hulu and Netflix keep messing with our notions of what TV can be, the broadcast networks clearly trust that multicam sitcoms and police procedurals aren’t going away anytime soon.

Sometimes this results in facepalm-ingly derivative stuff (looking at you, Outmatched and FBI: Most Wanted), but I still hold out hope that some of these shows can bring fun innovation to well-worn tropes. In particular, I’m crossing my fingers for Stumptown, Evil and Bob ♥ Abishola. All three look like they have the potential to deliver something familiar to audiences, while at the same time putting a refreshing twist on it. But at the end of the day, trying to predict how these things turn out is about as precise as meteorology. So I won’t pretend to know which ones will succeed; only the ones I hope will succeed. Sorry you had to read all the way to here for me to finally admit that. 😉  


About the Author

James Powers is a staff writer for the Impacting Culture Blog, currently earning his MBA in Film Producing at JPCatholic as a member of the class of 2019.

For all articles by James, click here.


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